Two months after Shanghai began to fall under a COVID-19 lockdown that froze life there and rippled across the national economy, China’s biggest city is poised to return to something closer to normal starting Wednesday.
Shanghai has released plans in recent days to reopen shops and malls, revive buses and ferries, and open parks and other public venues to 25 million residents who have spent much of the past eight weeks confined to their homes.
Some neighborhoods, shops and services have been cautiously reopening since mid-May as infections in the city began to fall. But it could take weeks before all neighborhoods are freed from the stay-at-home orders that have frustrated many residents and damaged trust in the government. About 640,000 residents remain under orders not to leave their housing compounds because of recent infections in their area.
Still, with Shanghai’s lockdown weighing on China’s economic growth, city leaders appear eager to restore business and consumer spending. On Wednesday, the city government warned neighborhood officials not to arbitrarily restrict residents who had been freed from lockdowns.
“No unit or individual can use any excuse to restrict residents from their neighborhood from going out and returning home, or employees from going on and off shift to restart production,” Zeng Qun, an official from the Shanghai bureau of civil affairs, said at a news conference.
Declining official case counts in Shanghai and Beijing suggest that the Chinese government’s stringent policies to stamp out omicron infections are working for now — albeit at a heavy economic and social cost.
China confirmed 97 new cases of COVID on Monday, including 31 in Shanghai and 18 in Beijing, according to figures issued by the National Health Commission.
It was the first time since early March that the nationwide daily count of new cases fell below 100. Many of the cases involved people already in quarantine, giving officials greater confidence that their restrictions are containing the virus.
But as Shanghai tries to kick back to life, many COVID testing requirements will stay in place. People who want to use public transport or enter many public places will have to show that they received a negative COVID test result within the past 72 hours.
— NEW YORK TIMES
German police investigate pandemic aid fraud
Police raided homes and offices in northern and western Germany on Tuesday as part of an investigation into a case involving five men accused of fraudulently applying for 26 million ($28 million) worth of pandemic-linked aid.
The German government drew up a series of aid packages to help businesses withstand the impact of lockdowns and other restrictions at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The suspects in this investigation — men aged 26 to 62 — are suspected of making at least 363 aid applications under false pretenses “for their own purposes and for companies that commissioned them,” according to a police statement. It’s believed to have resulted in a loss of several million euros, it added.
The investigation was launched in April 2020 after a development bank in the northern state of Lower Saxony reported suspicious activity. Twenty-five properties were raided on Tuesday, including the five suspects’ homes, but police said there were no arrests. They froze assets totaling 3.5 million euros, seizing cash and expensive watches.
In a separate case, a 20-year-old man was on Monday convicted of fraud in the southwestern city of Freiburg for taking 5.7 million euros from a doctors’ association last year for a test center he never opened, German news agency dpa reported.
A bank later returned the money.
The court will decide after a year’s probation whether to impose a sentence under juvenile law. He was ordered to pay 1,500 euros to charity and cover the costs of the proceedings, dpa reported.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS
San Diego doctor sentenced in hydroxychloroquine scheme
In March and April of 2020, as the coronavirus spread and people isolated in their homes, a doctor in San Diego boasted that he had his hands on a “miracle cure,” according to prosecutors — hydroxychloroquine.
In mass-marketing e-mails from his business, Skinny Beach Med Spa, Jennings Ryan Staley said the drug was included in his coronavirus “treatment kits,” despite the medication becoming increasingly scarce. But Staley had a way of getting it, he later told an undercover federal agent. He planned to smuggle in a barrel of hydroxychloroquine powder with the help of a Chinese supplier, prosecutors said.
Staley was sentenced last week to 30 days in prison and a year of home confinement for the scheme. He pleaded guilty last year.
“At the height of the pandemic, before vaccines were available, this doctor sought to profit from patients’ fears,” US Attorney Randy Grossman said in a news release. “He abused his position of trust and undermined the integrity of the entire medical profession.”
Staley’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday.
Hydroxychloroquine is often prescribed to people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and is used to treat malaria. The drug was repeatedly touted by then-President Donald Trump, starting in the early days of the pandemic, as a “game changer.” Trump’s endorsement caused demand for the drug to spike, leading to shortages and ultimately affecting those who needed it for non-COVID health problems. Studies later found that hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment for COVID and did not prevent people from becoming sick.
— WASHINGTON POST